The last time Marine Sergeant Daniel Cornier saw his K9 partner Darko, the Belgian Malinois was sticking his nose through the bars of his kennel at Camp Pendleton, looking as devastated as Cornier felt. “It was horrible for both of us. He just knew,” says Cornier.
That was in late 2012, not long after they returned from a successful deployment supporting Army Special Forces in Afghanistan. Darko, a specialized search dog, had made a name for himself as a super high-drive dog whose biggest passion was seeking out explosives. It helped that he was obsessed with Kongs and loved getting praise from Cornier. During that deployment, Darko had 11 finds, and saved countless live.
As so often happens in the military dog world, shortly after they returned from deployment, their assignments didn’t dovetail. So Cornier shipped off to Yuma, Arizona, while Darko stuck around the kennels at Pendleton. He was well cared for, but wasn’t assigned to another handler.
Not a day went by when Cornier didn’t think of his best friend.
Darko’s original handler had wanted to adopt him, but when the time came for the Darko to be dispo’d, he was unable to take him. Next on the list was Cornier.
He got the phone call while he was vacationing in Florida a couple of weeks ago. Cornier, who recently adopted a military dog from Lackland Air Force Base when he thought he wouldn’t be getting Darko, was ecstatic. He couldn’t wait to get back and help his best friend retire in style.
But would Darko, now 10, remember him? It had been some 18 months since they last saw each other, and Darko had gone on three deployments, but only one with Cornier.
On Sunday, he and his girlfriend drove from Yuma, Ariz., to San Diego. He felt like a kid at Christmas, and could barely contain his excitement about picking up Darko the next day. “I can’t believe he’ll be coming home with us. He’s waited a long time to become a civilian,” Cornier said.
Check out this video we put together from the footage he sent us of their happy reunion. Do you think Darko remembered?
Darko has adjusted beautifully to civilian life. He loves sleeping on beds and couches, has plenty of toys, and is getting along well with Rromano, Cornier’s other adopted military dog.
Here’s to a wonderful and long retirement! He sure deserves it!
If you’re interested in reading more about Darko’s phenomenal bomb-search abilities and his time in Afghanistan with Lucca, he’s in my next book, Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca, which is available for pre-order.